I know I shouldn’t, but I really do have to comment on Hugh Grant’s interventions into the phone-hacking scandal.
Hugh’s a splendid chap and I have huge respect for what he’s trying to do. The cynic in me fears he’s motivated less by selfless concern for the public good than by revenge (it was News International papers that cheerled the story of his embarrassing roadside blowjob), but I’m willing to suspend my cynicism. Hey, right thing even for wrong reason etc etc.
My worry about Hugh and his enthusiastic cheerleaders is that they risk exemplifying the dangerous adage that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
I don’t disagree for a second with his analysis that “there has been a grotesque power over our lawmakers.” Spot on. That’s how Murdoch (and, for ages, Conrad Black at the Telegraph) kept scandal at bay. Nobody in public office (or in a private position of power) wants to offend the media – obviously. It’s dangerous.
And yes, it IS grotesque. It affords the media, as I’ve said before, a disproportionate and shocking power. Which they will abuse. That’s human beings for you.
But here’s the thing: The alternative – politicians wielding grotesque power over the media – is far worse. If, like me, you deplore the vices of a free media uncontrolled by government, wait until you see the behaviour of a ‘free’ government unrestrained by media.
Speaking for myself, I’m forever amazed by what our lords and masters get up to even when they know the eyes of the press are upon them (parliamentary expenses, anyone?).
Believe me, you do NOT want to live in a country where the media lives in fear of politicians. On the contrary. We want our lawmakers and powerbrokers to fear the press. We need them to.
The downside, as ever, is that this has a price. Freedom – of the media, of the individual, of society – always does.
Example: You want to be free to own a firearm? Fine. But you’ll have to put up with an increased risk of being shot, or seeing your children shot. Americans, on the whole, understand this freedom dilemma better than Europeans, and I admire them for it. This side of the Atlantic, we’re all for minimising risk – all risk – at the expense of a wide range of freedoms.
When it comes to press freedom, it is exceptionally dangerous to tinker – no matter how noble or desirable the goal. I’m all for preventing a repeat of the phone hacking, and all the rest of it (I have an even greater interest in stopping it than a non-journalist), but every ‘solution’ proposed, so far, scares the shit out of me.
It should scare the shit out of you too. We must get this right – which means cool, unemotional deliberation and great, great care.
We do not need excitable luvvies running around talking about grotesque press power and demanding that politicians ‘control’ the media.